In June last year, bang in the middle of the pandemic, Chandigarh-based entrepreneur Sunali Aggarwal launched As You Are (AYA), a dating and social networking platform built exclusively for the Indian LGBTQ+ community. The annulment of Section 377 carved a new path for the Indian LGBTQ+ community and that’s when Aggarwal set out to research existing dating and social networking platforms and realised they either accommodated a specific section of the community or were open to all, overlooking the LGBTQ+ spectrum. This led to the inception of AYA. The app prides itself on being a no-pressure zone. It understands that many within the community have not identified themselves publicly for various reasons and, therefore, it aims to bridge that gap when it comes to dating and connecting with others who have, over the years, become comfortable with and vocal about their identities. The app also aims to offer matchmaking services to the community one day.
“The idea for an exclusive app for the LGBTQ+ community ensued from the first-hand experiences of friends who identified as queer and struggled with finding a partner and expressing themselves without being ridiculed or harassed. While the annulment of Section 377 may have granted them legal status, it did not neutralise or de-stigmatise the social taboos associated with the community, which further prevented a majority from living life on their terms. For them, the physical world may not be the most conducive space to find a partner. Therefore, the community often turns to the digital world to seek guidance and support,” explains Aggarwal, who co-founded Mobikwik.com in 2009 and has worked with 100 startups and software companies for over 18 years. “Owing to this, AYA aims to create a safe space to counter the challenges of queer dating. We are using the word ‘dating’ for simplification purposes and are working tirelessly to become the best match-making service for LGBTQ+ Indians globally. In the future, we also aim to bring services designed especially for the community and if possible, by the community.”
The app’s key features have been customised keeping in mind the suitability and sensitivity of the users. Users have complete control over the details they would like to share, their preferences, etc. The design and approach focus primarily on the user(s) profile rather than their photograph, which ensures that users retain anonymity while making connections. Registration requires basic details such as gender, orientation, email address, contact number, and a selfie which is only used by the back-end team to verify the account manually. Every verified user gets a referral code to the freemium app. When another user uses the referral code, they get 15 free premium days. This user then also appears as a connection of the first user.
Well-versed with the challenges of accessibility and authenticity, the app verifies every single user through three levels of verification: email, contact number and selfie. The tech team runs stringent checks on the selfie to verify users on the platform. User categories include ‘verified’, ‘unverified’ and ‘premium’. The app enables the user(s) to see profiles based on the gender selection they have opted for. For instance, if a woman user opted for only women profiles, then she will be shown only women profiles. If a man opted to see a woman’s profile, he would only get access to profiles of those who opted to be seen across the spectrum.
With 9,500-plus downloads to date, the app is currently available for Android users. The user base accounts for 40% from tier-1 cities, 40% from tier-2 cities, and the rest from all over the country.
The team is also working on including regional languages as English may not be the official or first language for a large majority.